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How to combat District Councillor's domination and potentially sinister developments resulting form it

0 votes
Apologies for the length of this post. Our Parish Council is in thrall to the District Councillor (not a Parish Councillor) and is dominated by a particular political party although no-one publicly declares this. Nothing new in that except that while successfully promoting an angelic public image, sinister things appear to be happening.

2 registered charities have been set up for a village hall and a "village charity" and the vast majority of recent spending has gone to these organisations which are not open to the same scrutiny as direct PC spending. Both organisations have the District Councillor in the main governance role. The PC underwrites any losses that may occur from the very expensive village hall that still has significant debt from the PWLB despite the sale of community assets to reduce it. An additional £20k p.a. is pumped in separately for potential future repairs. But they dine out on a design award so the financial risk is buried under the glory and the DC is an expert in manipulating the press to her advantage.

The District Councillor contracted as a "project officer" for a risky business app and paid a five figure sum to source government-supplied grant funding for development of the app. The PC owns the functioning app (which is a dated website format transferred to a phone app) but not the rights to the underlying format which the District Councillor has retained to sell to other councils while the initial risk and cost of development has been shouldered by the public purse. Again it has only been publicised that the PC owns the app and much of the content is blatant self-promotion of her.

The Parish Clerk has cheerfully admitted to taking up a (albeit small) paid role in the village charity alongside her existing role and did not arrange a proper contract for this major undertaking and confidential information appears to find its way to the DC and minutes are selective. This appears a clear conflict of interests and perhaps more. The former Chair is remunerated by the Village Hall (which the DC had a project management role in when built) and has also been remunerated by the Village Charity which received tens of thousands in Sect 106 monies for economic development despite only having run a youth club previously. My own experience says that these circumstances are in breach of all corporate guidance on avoiding allegations of bribery and corruption but would require a criminal investigation employing the Bribery Act notwithstanding the potential abuse of a public position by all concerned.
The DC is now the Leader of the District Council which employs the Monitoring Officer.This has deterred an approach to this avenue which would probably be relatively toothless anyway.

Many people are unhappy with the situation and there are reports of some nasty confrontations when any kind of challenge occurs.

Public lethargy and a lack of their understanding of the complex structure of control that has been created will allow her to persist without outside intervention.
by (120 points)

2 Answers

0 votes

Some clarification would help here for informed responses.

"2 registered charities have been set up for a village hall "

Set up to do what?  Collect donations from within it,  do something to the hall, ????

Spending has gone to these organisations ?  From who?

"Both organisations have the District Councillor in the main governance role."    Is this acknowleged in Cllrs register of interests?

An additional £20k p.a. is pumped in separately for potential future repairs. Pumped in from who?

"They dine out on a design award "  Is that award a certificate, trophy or cash sum?

"The District Councillor contracted as a "project officer" for a risky business app"  Who appointed him/her?

"Grant funding for development of the app".  A smartphone  "app"   - who provided the grant and  who completed the application form to the provider of the grant funding??

"The Parish Clerk has cheerfully admitted to taking up a (albeit small) paid role in the village charity alongside her existing role " Does the Clerk's contract of employment permit that?

"The DC is now the Leader of the District Council which employs the Monitoring Officer".  What about referring this to the External PC auditor and /or Loc Gov ombudsman?

by (33.3k points)
+1 vote
You appear to be making allegations of improper conduct against an elected member of your district council. The correct avenue for this is to report these matters to the monitoring officer of your district council and I would advise you to do this without delay. However, I advise you to be more focused in your reporting, concentrating solely on the matters which you believe relate to misconduct in public office. Self-promotion and granting of non-pecuniary favours are an everyday part of political life, whether we approve of them or not. If the monitoring officer determines that further investigation is required, or that criminal offences may have been committed, they will take the necessary steps to pursue this.  Toothless they are not!

Dealing with some of the specific matters individually, registered charities must operate independently and are not subject to public scrutiny in the way local councils are. As long as they are complying with the Charities Acts, they are doing nothing wrong. If the parish council owns the village hall, it is right and proper that it should provide for current and future maintenance where this is necessary. The wording of the legal agreement between the two parties should define this responsibility and this usually forms the governing document of the charity. I would hope that the parish council took appropriate legal advice regarding the development of the app, but regardless of this, if the internal auditor has seen the details of this and raised no concerns, the implication is that it does not contravene any legislation.

The Clerk is free to take up any paid employment alongside their parish council role. It is not uncommon for parish council clerks to work for other councils, churches, parish charities etc and there are many benefits to the community in doing so. If you feel that minutes of parish council meetings are not an accurate reflection of the business of the meeting, you should raise this with the members of the council and the Clerk. You have the right to record all parish council meetings to provide you with the necessary evidence of inaccuracies or omissions, but please bear in mind that the minutes are not intended to be a verbatim account of everything that was said at the meeting. All business of the parish council should be conducted in the public domain, so I can't think of any confidential information that could be passed to a district councillor that they do not already have access to by virtue of that position. If the village hall charity resolves that it is in the best interests of the charity to engage a paid employee, that is a matter for them. The same is true of the village charity.

I'm surprised that the Section 106 money is being diverted into the village charity, but there is no obvious legal impediment to this. My initial thought is that, depending on how it will be utilised, there may be a VAT cost to this.

The whole situation sounds messy and from what you have said, the basic democratic principles have been manipulated to benefit the reputations of the few. However, the public lethargy you refer to may, in part, be due to the fact that people appreciate the provision of their new villlage hall and the other services and amenities that have been spawned by this shenanigans.
by (47.4k points)

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